Another arresting example, documented by wildlife filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert (above), was the leopardess who they named Legadema, and her cub. After Legadema’s first baboon kill a small baby baboon was left attached to the dead body of its mother. Rather than killing it or ignoring it to eat her meal, Legadema picked up the infant when it reached out to her and carried it up a tree where she groomed it, carrying it higher each time it cried. The pair eventually curled up together and slept, but the baby died in the night and it was only then that Legadema returned to the mother baboon’s body to eat.

Such examples might be dismissed as the exceptions that prove the rule and we don’t know what would have happened in the long term. However, there is a clear and well documented case of inter-species adoption, by primatologists, in which a baby marmoset was taken in and cared for into adulthood by a group of wild (but provisioned) capuchins.

The ability (or even inclination) to (attempt to) raise the young of another species suggests the possibility of inter-species communication and empathy. Legadema might just have been responding to an innate maternal instinct. But the fact that she engaged with the baboon as a “baby” as opposed to a potential food source was the result of some form of mutual understanding between them; the baby reached out to her, and she responded to its request for comfort.

A final case which brings us back to human children and canines was documented in 2015. A malnourished and neglected two-year-old child was found by authorities in Chile being breastfed by a neighbor’s dog.

Stories of feral children are widely disputed by academics and are also seen as sensationalist by popular audiences. This is because the ability of other animals to raise human children calls many long-standing assumptions about human uniqueness and superiority into question. However, our knowledge of the capabilities of other animals is increasing rapidly. As a result we are forced to recognize that they too are capable of many behaviors and actions previously thought to be exclusively human. Also increasing are documented cases of animals from a variety of different species showing empathy towards vulnerable others. Or rescuing them from a range of different circumstances. And so the stories of feral children become more plausible.

This post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @US_conversation on Twitter.

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